The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.
The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.
Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars." Back home, their mother never accepted that they were "gone" and spent 28 years trying to get them back.
Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? TRUEVINE is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Beth Macy writes about outsiders and underdogs, and she is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Factory Man. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers and The Roanoke Times, where her reporting has won more than a dozen national awards, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard and the Lukas Prize from the Columbia School of Journalism. She lives in Roanoke, VA.
Table of Contents
Prologue: I Am the True Vine 11
1 Sit Down and Shut Up 23
2 White Peoples Is Hateful 38
3 And Still the Cry Against Us Continues 62
4 Your Momma Is Dead 85
5 Some Serious Secrets 124
6 A Paying Proposition 159
7 He Who Hustleth While He Waiteth 203
8 Comma, Colored 229
9 The Prodigal Sons 249
10 Not One Single, Solitary, Red Penny 278
11 Adultery's Siamese Twin 317
12 Housekeeping! 335
13 Practically Imbeciles 366
14 Very Good Old Colored Woman 411
15 Wilbur and John 442
16 God Is Good to Me 459
Epilogue: Markers 486
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well researched, interedting book on a subject I'd never even thought about but too expensive!
Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest by Beth Macy is the very highly recommended true story of two African-American brothers who were stolen and shown as circus freaks. Macy summarizes her book as "It's a story about race, greed, and the circus, and I've been chasing it for more than 25 years." The story of how 9 year old George, and 6 year old Willie Muse were stolen in 1899 right out of the tobacco field where they were working was handed down through the African-American families who lived in Truevine, Virginia, for generations. George and Willie, who were both albinos, were enslaved by a circus side-show manager and forced to be on display as various caricatures over the years. The Muse brothers became a popular top tier sideshow act. At Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey they were known as "Eko and Iko, the Ecuadorian Savages. During various other shows they were billed as cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars." Their mother may have initially made an agreement for the boys to work at the sideshow, but did not plan to have her boys enslaved by a shifty promoter and never returned home. She spent 28 years trying to get them back and securing pay for their work, which had been uncompensated. The historical scope of Macy's book is rich in period details and facts. Macy divides her book into four parts. She focuses on the world the boys were born into, the Jim Crow South, and looks at the life in the circus, including the side show acts/performers and managers, while uncovering the scarce details she could find about the life of the Muse brothers in the circus. Macy clearly admires Harriet Muse, the boy's mother, and her determination to find and secure some kind of compensation for their work. She managed to use the legal system to her advantage during a time when that scarcely seems possible. Truevine is an extremely well researched, thoughtfully written, historical account that is just as gripping as a thriller. Macy, a reporter, spent years waiting for the Muse family to approve her covering this story. Then she spent more time researching the story of the Muse brothers and the pertinent background information. and the historical context of the times. Her account of the facts and presentation of the historical information is simple fascinating and results in a compelling narrative that is a credit to her skills at research, reporting the facts, and presenting the information in a factual yet compassionate way. As is my wont, I was thrilled to see that Truevine includes extensive notes for each chapter and an index. This is one non-fiction book that should not be missed. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.
Why I love Truevine …. It took me into worlds that I knew little or nothing about: What it was like to be poor and black in Roanoke, Va., in the early 1900s; What it was like to live and work with a traveling circus and sideshow in the mid 1900s; What it was like to be objectified and commodified through no fault of your own. The big ideas in Truevine are so relevant today. Whose history are we learning? Whose voices have been forgotten? The truth is always more complicated than it seems. What will happen if no one does the hard work to seek out the hard-to-uncover truths? Think Lin Manuel’s Hamilton and Black Lives Matter. Beth Macy’s persistent reporting is laudable, for sure. But so is her willingness to say: I don’t know and Who am I to draw conclusions? Truevine is the story of Beth Macy’s search for truth, two brothers’ search for better lives and a mother’s search for her lost sons. Readers of the book will find themselves searching their souls — for a way forward that is more just and inclusive than the time and place when George and Willie Muse made their marks.